DES MOINES, Iowa - U.S. Rep. Steve King on Wednesday defended his call for a ban on all abortions by questioning whether there would be "any population of the world left" if not for births due to rape and incest.
Speaking before a conservative group in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, the Iowa congressman reviewed legislation he has sought that would outlaw abortions without exceptions for rape and incest. King justified the lack of exceptions by questioning how many people would be alive if not for those conceived through rapes and incest.
"What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?" King asked, according to video of the event, which was covered by The Des Moines Register. "Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that's taken place ... I know I can't certify that I'm not a part of a product of that."
Referring to support in the U.S. House for a ban on abortions, King added, "I've got 174 people who say they don't want exceptions for rape and incest because they understand it is not the baby's fault, to abort the baby, because of the sin of the father, and maybe sometimes the sin of the mother too."
A King spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
The nine-term Republican congressman, who represents a sprawling, largely rural 39-county district, has been criticized repeatedly for comments he's made over the years, especially on issues related to race and immigration.
Shortly before the November 2018 election, The Washington Post reported that King met in Austria with the far-right Freedom Party, a group with Nazi ties. King said the meeting was with business leaders, including one person from the Freedom Party, but the newspaper stood by its story.
Soon after the election, King was quoted in a New York Times story saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization - how did that language become offensive?" The comments were denounced as racist and led the House to vote 424-1 to rebuke King. Republican leaders also stripped him of his committee assignments.
Although King has usually breezed to victories in the conservative 4th Congressional District, he narrowly won his last election over Democrat J.D. Scholten.
This year, several candidates have said they will challenge King for the Republican nomination, including conservative state Sen. Randy Feenstra. Scholten also recently announced he'd again run for the seat.
After King's comment Wednesday, Feenstra said in a statement, "I am 100% pro-life but Steve King's bizarre comments and behavior diminish our message & damage our cause."
Scholten also criticized King.
"Yet again, Steve King puts his selfish, hateful ideology above the needs of the people of Iowa's 4th District. Excusing violence - in any way - is entirely unacceptable," Scholten said in a statement.
In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in House leadership, called King's comments "appalling and bizarre" and added "it's time for him to go."
Several Democratic presidential candidates noted King's comments and urged people to contribute to Scholten's campaign.
"You would think it would be pretty easy to come out against rape and incest," one of the presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg, said in a statement. "Then again, you'd think it'd be pretty easy to come out against white nationalism."